Ken Berry

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Ken Berry
Ken Berry 1972.JPG
Berry, circa 1972
Born Kenneth Ronald Berry
(1933-11-03) November 3, 1933 (age 80)
Moline, Illinois
Occupation Actor, dancer, singer
Years active 1954–1999
Spouse(s) Jackie Joseph (1960-76)

Kenneth Ronald "Ken" Berry (born November 3, 1933) is an American sitcom actor, dancer and singer. Berry has appeared in multiple television shows, one with his friend and mentor, Andy Griffith. Berry starred in the successful comedies F Troop, The Andy Griffith Show spin-off Mayberry R.F.D., and The Carol Burnett Show spin-off Mama's Family. He also appeared on Broadway in The Billy Barnes Revue, has headlined as George M. Cohan in the musical George M! and provided comic relief for the medical drama Dr. Kildare, with Richard Chamberlain in the 1960s.

Early life and career[edit]

Berry was born in Moline in Rock Island County in northwestern Illinois, one of two children of the accountant, Darrell Berry, and his wife, Bernice. Berry is of Swedish-English descent.

Berry realized he wanted to be a dancer and singer at age 12, as he watched a children's dance performance during a school assembly. He dreamed of starring in movie musicals and would go to the movie theater to see Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in some of his favorite films including Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, On the Town, and Summer Stock.[1]

Berry immediately started tap dance class and, at age 15, won a local talent competition sponsored by radio and television big band leader Horace Heidt. Heidt asked Berry to join his traveling performance ensemble, "The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program", a popular touring group. He toured the U.S. and Europe for 15 months with the program, dancing and singing for the public and at post-World War II United States Air Force bases overseas. Berry made lasting relationships with several of his co-cast members and Horace's son, Horace Heidt Jr., who later launched a big band and radio career.[1]

Army service[edit]

After high school graduation, Berry volunteered for induction into the United States Army, and was assigned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

His first year in the Army was spent in the Artillery division, where his sergeant announced a base talent contest. The winner would go to New York City to appear on Arlene Francis' Soldier Parade. Berry, who always carried his tap shoes with him, worked out a routine and a few hours later won the contest. He headed to New York for his television debut.

Berry's second and final year was as a part of the Special Services Corps, under the command of Sergeant Leonard Nimoy. As a part of Special Services, he toured Army bases and officers' clubs entertaining the troops, as well as visiting colleges for recruiting purposes. Soon another talent competition was held, the All Army Talent Competition, looking to find service personnel to appear on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town. Berry placed third in the "Specialty Act" category with the song "There'll Be Some Changes Made" and returned to New York City and television.

Film career[edit]

The Sullivan appearance was to take place shortly before Berry would muster out of the Army. Nimoy sent telegrams to several studios and talent agents asking them to watch Berry on the show. The performance led to an offer from Twentieth Century Fox and a screen test at Universal Studios. He signed with an agent as soon as he arrived in Hollywood.

Berry accepted Universal's offer and began as a contract player. Soon he was being groomed to take over for Donald O'Connor in the Francis the Talking Mule movie series;[citation needed] however, Mickey Rooney became available and got the part. At Universal, Berry took full advantage of the studio's talent development program and later, under the GI Bill of Rights, he took jazz dance, ballet, vocal, and additional acting classes.

The movie musicals Berry admired had already seen their heyday. However, acting, which he once thought of as "something I would do between song and dance routines",[1] became the basis of his career.

Berry went on to star in the 1969 musical comedy Hello Down There – reissued as Sub a Dub Dub – as Mel Cheever, the nemesis to Tony Randall and Janet Leigh, and with Denver Pyle in 1976's Guardian of the Wilderness, the story of Galen Clark, the man who created Yosemite National Park. Berry also earned broader success as a Disney star in the films Herbie Rides Again in 1974, with Helen Hayes and Stefanie Powers, and The Cat From Outer Space in 1978, with Sandy Duncan and McLean Stevenson.

Las Vegas[edit]

In 1956, after being released from Universal, Berry returned to Las Vegas where he opened for and joined Abbott & Costello in their stage act, performing sketches and song and dance routines at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. While working with Abbott & Costello, he met Dee Arlen, an actress whom he credits with getting him his first big break.[1] This was Berry's first performance on the Las Vegas strip.

Then, in 1957, Berry was asked by Ken Murray, a well-known vaudeville performer, to join his stage variety show, "The Ken Murray Blackouts". The Blackouts played to standing-room-only audiences, and Berry was asked to choreograph and perform the opening number for the show when it played the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Berry eventually returned to Las Vegas again in the 1970s at the invitation of Andy Griffith. Griffith, along with Berry and Jerry Van Dyke, played Caesars Palace, where Berry performed song and dance numbers sandwiched by Andy and Jerry's stand-up routines.

The Billy Barnes Review[edit]

Actress Dee Arlen referred Berry for a role in the show In League with Ivy at the Cabaret Concert Theatre, a nightclub in Los Angeles. This show was where he met famed composer–impresario Billy Barnes who was the play's composer. Barnes would bring Berry into The Billy Barnes Review ensemble, his next break, and he would perform in many of Barnes' shows in the coming years.

While performing with Barnes, Berry worked with other performers including Berry's future wife, Jackie Joseph, as well as Joyce Jameson, Bert Convy, Patti Regan, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Lennie Weinrib, and sketch writer/director Bob Rodgers. Several cast albums were made.

In November 1959, the original cast of the Broadway show was replaced two weeks after a legal dispute with the producers over a canceled performance. The cast had missed their flight from Chicago after a promotional appearance on Playboy's Penthouse and refunds had to be made to the ticket holders. He performed in several stage shows in Los Angeles; the press dubbed him "another Fred Astaire" and "the next Gene Kelly". His talent was also compared to that of Flamenco Dancer José Greco, legend Donald O'Connor, Ray Bolger, and Jack Donohue.Hobson, Dick. "The Original Dull Guy". TV Guide. 

Television career[edit]

Arthur Godfrey[edit]

From 1946 to 1958, Arthur Godfrey had an evening television show called Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The show was a talent contest, and the winner would get a week's work on Godfrey's morning television program, which was simulcast on radio. One week in 1957, Berry won, performed his week on the show, and was then asked back for six more weeks. He traveled with Godfrey and performed on remote broadcasts in an Omaha stock yard, in Seattle at a lumber camp, at the Boeing aircraft plant, and at the San Diego Zoo. Berry was responsible for coming up with a new routine for every show, which were aired daily.[1]

Ken Berry and Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress in 1972

Carol Burnett[edit]

The Billy Barnes Review was popular with Hollywood, and one evening Carol Burnett was in Los Angeles and saw Berry in the show. She was appearing on The Garry Moore Show in New York and convinced the producers to sign Berry as a guest star. Burnett became a key ally for Berry, using him on her own special, which eventually became CBS's The Carol Burnett Show. Ken was one of Burnett's most frequent guest stars along with Jim Nabors and Steve Lawrence.

Hobson, Dick. "The Original Dull Guy". TV Guide.  [2]

A notable dramatic performance by Berry was 1982's Eunice special, which was based on The Carol Burnett Show sketch, The Family. The Family was somewhat of a pilot for Mama's Family. Berry played Phillip, Eunice's brother, in the special; however he went on to play Vinton, a different brother on Mama's Family.

His collaborations with Carol Burnett continued, and they appeared together in the 1972 color remake of Burnett's Broadway hit, Once Upon A Mattress for CBS; and in the 1993 Long Beach theatrical production of From the Top.

Lucille Ball[edit]

Berry's tenure with The Billy Barnes Review also led to another important connection in his career when he was spotted by Lucille Ball. Ball quickly asked him to join her new talent development program she was starting at Desilu, similar to the "talent pools" – known as talent "programs" – that the other studios had. He was under contract with Desilu for six months, performing for both Ball and Barnes at the same time. The reviews for The Billy Barnes Review were largely positive, and additional investors contributed the extra money needed to move the show from the York Playhouse to Broadway,[3] which meant he had to take leave from Desilu.

After returning from New York in 1960, Berry was brought back to Desilu to play Woody, a bell hop, in ten episodes of CBS's The Ann Sothern Show which was set in a New York hotel called the Bartley House. The character Woody served as a "Greek chorus of one" on the series.

In 1968, Ball asked Berry to guest star on The Lucy Show, where he played a bank client needing a loan to start a dance studio. Ken performed a tribute to the Fred Astaire number "One for My Baby" and a duet with Ball for a rendition of "Lucy's Back in Town".

Additional television roles[edit]

After numerous smaller roles, Berry was cast as one of three comic relief characters on Dr. Kildare, from 1961 to 1966. A regular on the series, Berry played Dr. Kapish.

F-Troop and Mayberry R.F.D.[edit]

Ken Berry, Andy Griffith and Buddy Foster in Mayberry R.F.D., 1968

Berry continued doing guest roles, but while performing a small part on the short-lived George Burns-Connie Stevens sitcom Wendy & Me, both Burns and Stevens recommended him for the pilot of F-Troop for ABC, a western spoof where he played the accident-prone Captain Parmenter—his first weekly role starring in a sitcom.

Berry's co-stars were Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch. Berry called his time on F-Troop "two years of recess"[1] as the entire cast spent time between takes trying to make each other laugh. His grace and agility allowed him to perform choreographed pratfalls over hitching posts, sabers, and trash cans.

In 1967, during the second year of F-Troop, Dick Linke – who was Berry's manager, and also managed Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors – pitched an F-Troop stage show to Bill Harrah, founder of Harrah's Entertainment, which included a casino and hotel in Reno, Nevada. Harrah went for it and Berry, Larry Storch, Forrest Tucker, and James Hampton put together a show, hiring writers and a choreographer to assist. While performing the Reno show they received word that F-Troop had been canceled due to a financial dispute between the production company and the studio.

The next year Berry was cast in a guest starring role on The Andy Griffith Show as Sam Jones, a widowed farmer. He would take over the lead role once Griffith left the show. In 1968 Berry led the cast of the newly titled Mayberry R.F.D.. Since many of the actors who played the regular characters stayed with the show when Griffith left, the continuity kept the ratings high. Series writers used his "trouper" talents in stories around church revues and talent contests. On the 1970 Mayberry R.F.D. episode "The Charity", he and co-star Paul Hartman performed a soft shoe routine. Berry would sometimes end a show on the porch at dusk, serenading others with such songs as "Carolina Moon". In spite of finishing 15th place for season three, Mayberry R.F.D. was canceled in 1971 in what was called "the rural purge", where shows set in a bucolic locale (The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction) were replaced with the more "hip" fare of Norman Lear (All In The Family) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

After Mayberry R.F.D., Berry starred in several made for TV movies, and his own summer replacement variety show on ABC called The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show in 1972, which ran for five episodes. This show was an opportunity for future stars Steve Martin, Cheryl Ladd and Teri Garr.

Later television[edit]

In 1973 Sherwood Schwartz wrote a Brady Bunch spin-off called Kelly's Kids, which featured Berry as the adoptive father of three diverse boys (black, white, and Asian). The pilot failed to interest ABC.

Over the next two decades Berry guest starred on many shows, including The Bob Newhart Show, The Julie Andrews Hour, several Mitzi Gaynor specials, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Donny & Marie Show, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, CHiPS, and The Golden Girls.

Mama's Family[edit]

In 1983, Berry was cast as Vinton Harper in Mama's Family, a spin-off from The Carol Burnett Show with comic-actors including Vicki Lawrence, Dorothy Lyman, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Beverly Archer during six seasons of the show. Mama's Family aired on NBC from 1983 to 1984 and in repeats until 1985. It was then picked up for first-run syndication from 1986 to 1990. The run totaled 130 episodes.

During and after Mama's Family, Berry toured the U.S. in various theatrical performances, including multiple performances of Sugar with co-stars such as Donald O'Connor, Mickey Rooney, Soupy Sales, and Bobby Morse, The Music Man with Susan Watson (Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi were in the chorus), I Do! I Do! with Loretta Swit, and Gene Kelly's A Salute to Broadway with Howard Keel and Mimi Hines. Kelly, Berry's idol, was to direct the production, but fell ill.[1]

Commercials[edit]

In his younger years, Berry signed with a modeling agency that put him in a variety of spots, including advertisements for tissues, cigarettes, cereal, and a car commercial.[1]

Years later, after signing with a commercial agent, Berry was a spokesman in commercials for Kinney Shoes from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, singing and dancing to the "Great American Shoe Store" jingle.

Record albums[edit]

Berry's first recording experience came with the Billy Barnes cast albums: one from the Broadway performance of The Billy Barnes Review and the second in Billy Barnes' L.A.

After an appearance on The Andy Williams Show, Williams asked Berry to record a solo album on his new Barnaby label. Backed by a full orchestra, Ken Berry RFD was released in 1970.

Personal life[edit]

Berry married Jackie Joseph, a Billy Barnes castmate on May 29, 1960. They divorced in 1976.

Berry has "loved cars and anything with wheels" since he was a young child, particularly smaller cars, and maintains a 1966 Mini Moke. An avid motorcyclist, he would camp and ride the local Los Angeles mountain ranges.[1]

Credits[edit]

List of television series credits
Year Title Role Notes
1961-1966 Dr Kildare Dr. Kapish
1964-1965 No Time for Sergeants Joe Dalrymple
1965-1967 F Troop Captain Parmenter
1968-1971 Mayberry RFD Sam Jones
1968-1978 The Carol Burnett Show Himself
1970 The Art Linkletter Show Himself
1972 Ken Berry WOW Show Himself
1983-1990 Mama's Family Vinton Harper
List of other television appearances
Year Title Role Notes
1954 Talent Patrol Himself
1959 Playboy's Penthouse Himself With The Billy Barnes Review cast
1960 Harrigan and Son Himself As Curtis Decker
1960-1961 The Ann Sothern Show Woody 10 episodes
1961 Hennesey Ensign Mayberry He played a character "Mayberry" seven years before he was cast in the lead in Mayberry, RFD
1961 The Asphalt Jungle Doctor (uncredited)
1961 The Garry Moore Show Himself
1962 GE True Fiancé
1962 The Bob Newhart Show various
1962 Mrs. G. Goes to College Oscar
1962-1963 Ensign O'Toole Lt. Melton / Calucci
1963 Burke's Law Clyde (fella at party)
1964 Calhoun: County Agent Otis Sorenson
1964 Combat! Motor Sergeant
1964 The Dick Van Dyke Show Tony Daniels (choreographer)
1964 Hazel Phil Merrick
1964 The Rogues
1964-1965 Twelve O'Clock High Major Bragg / Captain
1965 Rawhide Lt. Tendall
1965 The Hollywood Palace Himself
1966 Carol & Company Himself
1967 Dateline: Hollywood Himself
1967 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In Himself
1967 The Danny Thomas Hour Skip
1967 The Woody Woodbury Show Himself
1967 You Don't Say Himself Game show
1968 The Andy Griffith Show Sam Jones
1969 Allen Ludden's Gallery Himself
1969 The Ed Sullivan Show Himself
1969 The Leslie Uggams Show Himself
1969 Wake Me When the War is Over Lt. Roger Carrington Made-for-TV movie
1969-1971 The Andy Williams Show Himself Guest performer
1971 The First Nine Months are the Hardest First husband
1971 The Reluctant Heroes Lt. Parnell Murphy
1971 This Is Your Life: Andy Griffith Himself
1971-1973 Love American Style Various roles
1972 Arthur Godfrey's Portable Electric Medicine Show Himself
1972 Every Man Needs One David Chase Made-for-TV movie
1972 Once Upon a Mattress Dauntless the Drab
1972 The Julie Andrews Hour Himself
1973 Letters from Three Lovers Jack
1973 & 1974 Miss Teenage America Pageant Himself, Master of Ceremonies
1973 Mitzi - The First Time Himself
1973 The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Wilt Chamberlain Himself
1973 The Mouse Factory Himself
1974 The Brady Bunch Ken Kelly Episode used as the pilot for Kelly's Kids (which went unsold)
1974 Stand Up and Cheer Himself
1974 Tattletales Himself Game show
1974 The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour Himself
1975 Medical Center Allan Ronston
1975 Mitzi and a Hundred Guys Himself
1975 The Jim Stafford Show Himself
1976 Ellery Queen DJ Paul Parker / Buddy
1976 Mitzi - Roarin' in the Twenties Himself
1976 Over and Out Capt. Paddy Patterson
1977 Dinah! Himself
1977 The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams Will Boker
1977 The Love Boat II Dr. Jim Berkley
1977 Valentine's Second Chance Jimmy Valentine
1978 Apple Pie
1978 CBS: On the Air Himself
1978-1982 Fantasy Island Various
1979 Featherstone's Nest Dr. Charlie Featherstone
1979 Little House on the Prairie London
1979 The Love Boat Robert Noble
1980 CHiPS Kelly
1980 The Big Show Himself
1982 Eunice Phil Harper
1983 Just Men! Himself Game show hosted by Betty White
1983 Texaco Star Theatre: Opening Night Himself
1985 Gimme a Break! Dave
1986 Small Wonder Buddy O'Conner
1992 The Golden Girls Thor Anderson
1992 Vicki! Mama's Family Reunion Himself
1993 Intimate Portrait: Vicki Lawrence Himself
1997 The New Adventures of Batman Seymour Grey
1999 Maggie Winters Sheriff Riley
2000 E! True Hollywood Story: Andy of Mayberry Himself
2000 Inside TV Land: The Andy Griffith Show Himself
2006 CMT: The Greatest Country Comedy Shows Himself
2006 My First Time: Variety is the Spice of Life Himself
List of film credits
Year Title Role Notes
1962 Two for the Seesaw Larry Dancing with Shirley MacLaine, uncredited
1964 The Lively Set Hotel room service waiter Uncredited
1969 Hello Down There Mel Cheever Film later re-released as Sub A Dub Dub
1974 Herbie Rides Again Willoughby Whitfield
1976 Guardian of the Wilderness Zachary More
1978 The Cat from Outer Space Frank
List of theater credits
Year Title Role Notes
1957 In League with Ivy Himself
1958 Billy Barnes Review Himself
1960 Billy Barnes' People Himself
1960 Vintage '60 Himself
1961 Billy Barnes' Hollywood Himself
1961 Little Mary Sunshine Captain 'Big Jim' Warington
1961 The Billy Barnes Review Himself
1963 Billy Barnes' LA Himself
1964 The Best of Billy Barnes Himself
1974 The Music Man Prof. Harold Hill
1975 Gene Kelly's Salute to Broadway Himself
1984 Run for Your Wife John Smith
1993 From the Top Various characters With Carol Burnett
Multiple years George M! George M. Cohen
Multiple years I Do! I Do! Michael Snow
Multiple years Sugar Joe

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Berry, Ken (March 7, 2012). Interview with Stephen Abramson. Archive of American Television. North Hollywood, California.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Craft, Dan. "Ken Berry - Still Making 'em Laugh", August 13, 1993
  3. ^ Zolotow, Sam (July 22, 1959). "Revue Will Move to Golden Theatre". The New York Times, p. 2. 

External links[edit]